- Iwuanyanwu, civil war veteran, other Igbo leaders condemn protesters
In the manner that a gentle breeze snowballs into whirlwind, the agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which began as an innocuous event, appears to have assumed a disturbing dimension. In the last one week, the agitators have staged series of protests across the region and parts of Delta State, paralysing commercial activities in the process.
Findings showed that the development has caused anxiety among the people who now fear that the agitation may compound kidnapping, armed robbery and other anti-social activities that have bedevilled the region over the years, and metamorphose into acts of terrorism if it is not nipped in the bud quickly.
A worried respondent said: “In the past one week that the agitators started the protests, we have been living with the fear that the region may come under a new regime of insecurity.
“If care is not taken, this may transform into another form of terrorism that would compound the challenges of kidnapping and armed robbery in our area.
“Something urgent should be done to spare us and our land of acts that are capable of causing bloodshed.”
The fear of the agitators appears to have become the beginning of wisdom for some of the leaders in the zone as they declined to comment on the issue for fear that they might incur the wrath of the agitators. It was learnt that in some areas, the groups have started disregarding existing Igbo leadership and have begun to project themselves as the new leaders of the South East.
An Igbo leader, who did not want his name in print, said: “It is risky to openly speak about the group. If you say anything that is against their agitation, they will take you as an enemy, and the truth is that there is nothing positive about what they are doing. They are opportunists and relevance- seeking people who are misleading unsuspecting youths to take to an unworthy cause.
“If there is a need for such agitation, it would not be championed by rudderless and misguided set of human beings; it would be the collective decision of the entire zone. But as we speak, there is no need for such agitation. They are very unruly and power drunk.
“It is disturbing that some of them have no regard for existing leadership in the land and have started seeing themselves as the leaders that the people should reckon with. That is actually their mission, but it would not work.”
It was gathered that the anxiety of the people is fuelled by the aggressive manner the agitators have been “brainwashing” young people to join the movement. Checks revealed that the recruitment is strategically designed to get members across the country.
Ikedigwe Raphael, an IPOB coordinator in Lagos State, confirmed this in a chat with The Nation.
He said: “IPOB is divided into groups A and B. Group A comprises Bayelsa, Rivers, Abia, Imo, Akwa-Ibom and Cross River, while group B comprises Anambra, Enugu, Delta and Ebonyi. We regard any other state, region or zone not captured in the aforementioned groups in the country as a zoo.
“The protests will continue until the director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, is released. Benjamin Onwuka of Biafran Zion Movement (BZM) and others currently arrested should also be released.”
He berated the acclaimed leader of (MASSOB), Chief Raph Uwazurulike, for allegedly misleading and selling out Ndigbo in the pursuit of the Biafran agenda, describing him as a businessman.
The Nation investigation revealed that a number of Igbo traders and commercial motorcycle operators have already been recruited in Lagos.
A commercial motorcycle operator who spoke with our correspondent relished his membership of the group, singing various songs he said they were taught during a training conducted by the leaders of the agitators. “The high point of the protest will occur in December when we will travel home en masse to hold a mass protest. The arrangement is concluded and all we are waiting for is the right time to strike.”
Two leading members of IPOB in Anambra State, Osita Amaechina and Obinna Remigus Ani, said their interest was to actualise Biafra like Southern Sudan, Eritrea and others, adding that it was the reason why they were non-violent.
MASSOB, in a statement it issued in Awka, said there was no meeting, dialogue or discussion with South East governors and the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze, without IPOB and MASSOB, asserting that they are the new Igbo leaders.
However, in a statement, the factional Director of Information (MASSOB), Uchenna Madu, said: “We support the meeting of the South East governors and Ohanaeze Ndigbo with leaders of pro-Biafra groups to douse the political tension in the land.
“The continued detention of Nnamdi Kanu, non-compliance with demands and non-violence demonstration will continue to hunt, frustrate and diminish Nigeria’s image before the international community,” Madu said.
Some of the agitators who took part in the protests said their demonstration was intended to draw the attention of the global community to what they described as the injustice the Federal Government was meting out to their leader who has been in detention for over two weeks.
The leader of MASSOB, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, who had called for the release of the detained Kanu, had continued to advocate for a non-violent approach to the Biafra agitation.
In an exclusive chat with The Nation, the separatist, who affirmed the dismissal of the Radio Biafra Director from MASSOB, urged the FG to ignore his hate campaign and release him.
The zonal leader of MASSOB, Mr. Emeka Okafor, said that Ndigbo are fully aware of the implication of secessionist agitation, stressing that a pogrom is already taking place in the northern part of the country where he said Ndigbos are being targeted for mass killing.
His words: “Because of the injustice we have suffered in the Nigeria state, we would prefer to be poor in freedom than be rich as slaves. The Igbo are specially targeted for killing in the North. We have unjustifiably borne the brunt of pogroms in the North. The life of an Igbo person is cheap.’’
A protester who gave his name as Chukwudi said: “We decided to join in the call for the release of our leader and director because he has stayed in detention longer than required. Onitsha, Asaba, Bayelsa, Anambra, Awka, Imo parts of Southeast and South-South states are equally protesting.
“The case of Aba will not be different. And what do we have in our shops that will be more important than joining our brothers to call for the release of our detained leader? It is a struggle that we will not relent in pursuing.”
Another protester, Kenechukwu Okonkwo, said: “We are backing the agitation of our leader because we have been marginalised for a very long time and it is time that we are left to manage our resources. But I equally want to say that we are going to actualise the dreams of our forefathers peacefully and not violently.
“There is no larger implication of any kind. All we are saying is that the federal government should release our leader. If they continue to detain him, they would be calling for more of the protests.
“Let me use this opportunity to call on people in the South-East and South-South states to ensure that they store enough food in their houses because subsequent protests are going to be massive and would go on for unspecified period during which the markets will remain shut.”
Knocks for agitators
The activities of the agitators have, however, continued to attract condemnation from prominent Igbo leaders in the country. Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, condemned the protests in strong terms, stating that it does not enjoy the support or backing of the governors or other Igbo leaders.
According to him, the Igbo do not need the violence associated with militia groups to negotiate their place in the Nigerian project or pursue the Igbo agenda.
Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, a frontline businessman and grand patron of Ohanaeze youths, said the agitation does not make sense.
He said: “The people making the agitation don’t understand what they are talking about. We fought the civil war and are happy to be re-united back to Nigeria. Igbo people are major stakeholders in Nigeria today.
“Since the beginning of the country, Igbo people have played key role in the development of virtually all the sectors. After all these contributions, how can the region now say that it is breaking away? It doesn’t make sense. Ndigbo should stop anybody that wants to break the country.
“The South-East will be too small to accommodate the enterprising nature of our people if the zone should break away from Nigeria. So, the agitators should stop embarrassing us.
“But I must add here that those young people are doing all this out of frustration and desperation. They have the feeling that they are marginalized and that once you are born an Igbo in Nigeria, your opportunities are limited.”
Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, the President of Ohanaeze Youth Council (OYC), asked the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), to refrain from actions that are capable of threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria as a country.
OYC advised the groups to embrace dialogue and channel their grievances to where they could be given due attention if they truly seek the good of Igbo nation.
A statement signed by the OYC President said the agitators and proponents of secession perhaps have not sat down to count the cost of a divided nation which will borne by the Igbo nation particularly “our youths whose future and strenuously built investments stand at risk. The business concerns of Igbo businessmen and women extend across all geopolitical zones of the country. These meticulously built investments running into trillions of naira cannot be mortgaged on the plinth of unbridled sentimental proclivities, as we believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is a listening leader and we can achieve more through peaceful dialogue.
“We, therefore, call on the agitators to desist from using guerrilla antics capable of casting the Igbo nation in bad light. Rather, Nnamdi Kanu and his group, if they truly seek the good of Igbo nation, should peacefully bring their demands to the table of diamond where their grievances can be heard and accorded due attention. We appreciate and support the efforts of Governor Rochas Okorocha in advancing the cause of the Igbo.”
His Royal Majesty, Eze Kanu, noted: “There is no need agitating for Biafra. I am sure it is those that lost out in their political calculations that are behind this to make themselves relevant. If they feel they were not given what they wanted, they should look for better ways of getting it instead of going about it the way they are doing.
‘’They should take time to think of the implications of their actions and tread with caution. The elders in Igboland have a big role to play in all this. They should advise these youths to put an end to the agitation. They should desist from any action that is capable of setting the country back.
“If they persist, they, as youths, will be the ones that would bear the brunt the more. If their anger is that their expectations have not been met by the present administration, they should remember that Rome was not built in a day. They should endeavour to be patient with the government and choose a peaceful way of presenting their cases.
“As it is now, their activities have been affecting the economy of the region. If they succeed in destroying the little economic foundation that the region is built on, they would end up setting the area and the people back and everybody will have to start afresh. If you burn your beard, you will be the first person to perceive the smell. I will never be party to such move.”
Chief Izuzu Ibechiodo, A Biafran war veteran, observed that “the Biafra we fought for was buried when we agreed to a ceasefire to end the civil war. All that is left is the awareness that we the Igbo know our identity. So, the call for an independent Biafra in any guise is deceitful and self-serving.
“We cannot be dragged to another war. What we should be interested in doing is to discover our place in the entity called Nigeria and fully participate in the politics and economy of the nation.”
The agitation, in the view of Chief Nduka Eya, the immediate past secretary general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, could be treasonable if it does not follow the rule of law.
Eya said: “The people have the right to self-determination. The recently convened Sovereign National Conference held that people have the right to ask to be left alone. But those agitating for Biafra should realise that the agitation must follow due process without which their actions will be treasonable. They are creating disorder in the society and the police have the right to arrest and charge them.
“Much as what they are doing is not right, the Federal Government is equally doing the wrong thing by arresting their leader and keeping him in detention for this long. They should also follow the rule of law by charging him to court and not continue to keep him in detention in defiance of the law. Detaining him indefinitely is illegal.
“The Federal Government should not be tempted to drive these people underground to avoid escalating the problem. If you ask me, I will say that Biafra died way back in 1970. Instead of shouting and agitating for it, our people and Nigerians as a whole should be calling for the implementation of the resolutions of the Sovereign National Conference organised by the Jonathan administration.’’
Haunted by the experience of the civil war, Barrister Nathaniel Ngozi Ikeocha, a former governorship aspirant under the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and All Progressives Congress (APC) and Eze Okey Ananaba decried the agitation. They described the civil war as harrowing and horrific experience which one can never pray to experience twice in his life time.
Ikeocha remarked that the sponsors and agitators are misguided, stressing that their motives were contrary to those of Ojukwu who “invested all he had and his father’s wealth in the war, which was contrary to the present agitators. The agitation is stupid. There is strength in the diversity of Nigeria, and that is what we need to move forward as a nation.
“I can simply attribute the recent protests by MASSOB and IPOB as being politically motivated. We have not reached a stage where referendum will be called because the agitation is not a unanimous one.”
‘The way out’
Proffering solution to the challenge, Chief Iwuanyanwu said: “The solution, in my view, is that Igbo businessmen should do everything possible to invest at home. When they come back to the zone to invest, each of them would employ no fewer than five people. When this is done, a lot of our unemployed people will have something doing and the region will not be bedevilled with such problems anymore.
“The solution can’t come from the government alone. We have to play our part. The government on its part should realise that the agitators are doing all this out of frustration. The country doesn’t offer them any hope. They should look into all these and address them.
“The third solution is that the federal government should remove the local governments from the control of the states. The local governments have what it takes to address a number of the problems in the country if they are allowed to function very well. It should not be seen as a place for small people but a place where experienced people who would not use it to enrich themselves should serve to improve the lives of the people.”
Oscar David Kalu, a former Vice President of National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) said: “For me, I would want Nigeria to remain as a nation and I am sure that the vast majority of Igbo people don’t want to secede.
“We are better as one nation, but there is mutual distrust and bitterness with everyone seeing the Igbo as the problem of the country. In spite of this, they would not allow the Igbo to go. If not for our enterprising nature, we would have long gone under as a people.
“There is an urgent need for us to revisit our history of amalgamation and pursue true federalism. President Buhari is not to blame for the Igbo woes. But I will suggest that we take a referendum and see what the outcome will be.
“I am of the belief that the people have the right to protest peacefully. But shredding the Nigerian flag is wrong.”
Barrister Fabian Onwughalu, President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Lagos State and a number of other leaders of the zone, opined that the solution lies in the execution of the resolutions of the Sovereign National Conference convened by the Jonathan administration.
“The agitation, in my thinking, is borne out of the people’s feeling that the region is marginalised. There is this feeling that the region is not seen as a part of the country by the present administration. The Federal Government should do everything possible to implement the content of the SNC. It will go a long way in addressing a good number of the problems facing the country.”
For elder statesman and retired medical laboratory scientist, Evangelist Sam Emmanuel, the “amalgamation of 1914 was not a mistake. Neither was it by accident. That is where we started as a nation. But we should not throw into the dust bin the present situation.
“In other, words, there is need to find out what is responsible for the present situation. There are certain things the people making such agitations are clamouring for, and we should know that when a child is pointing while crying, somebody should look into that place.
“Much as I stand for a united Nigeria, there is need for us the leaders to really examine the problem of this geo-political zone. What is the state of their roads? Have they been treated fairly?
“When the war ended in 1970, the then government in power came up with three (Rs) namely, reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation. The question is, have they really achieved that? These are certainly some of the issues I believe these people are pursing.”
Col. Joe Achuzia (rtd) who fought on the side of Biafra, called for a roundtable conference where all issues should be discussed, stressing that the issue of ‘no go areas’ is a mark of dishonesty.
He advocated the abrogation of the present Constitution because it was prepared by the military, and the resuscitation of a civil constitution.
Achuzia dismissed the insinuation that the renewed agitation by pro-Biafra groups came up after Buhari was sworn in as President, stressing that the agitation began while ex-Presidents Jonathan and Yar’Adua were in power.
His words: “The agitation was going on while Yar’Adua was on seat. In fact, at one time, it was said that it was the MASSOB who were supporting the Ijaw militants.’’ (The Nation)